A former female employee who is the wife of an NFL football star is suing deVere Group for sexual harassment, claiming its New York investment advisory business operated like the bad boy brokerages seen in Boiler Room and Wolf of Wall Street.
Philippa Okoye, the wife of San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Lawrence Okoye, accused her manager and co-workers at deVere USA Inc., a registered investment advisor, of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. According to the complaint filed in Manhattan federal court, Okoye was hired as a senior investment advisor in October 2013 to work in deVere’s New York office on Third Avenue. When she was hired, Okoye was the only female employee in an office of approximately 20 workers.
From day one, deVere’s male employees made “inappropriate and offensive sexual comments and degrading comments about women” to Okoye, according to the complaint.
In particular, Benjamin Alderson, a registered investment advisor who served as COO and senior area manager for the firm, allegedly made inappropriate remarks regarding his dislike of having women in the office and her relationship with her husband, including, “I think it’s disgusting when white women go out with black guys," the complaint states.
When Okoye complained about the inappropriate comments made by Alderson and others, the COO dismissed her concerns. After verbally abusing her during a staff meeting, Alderson went further, according to the complaint, saying, “See! I can’t say anything to you women without you crying, it’s a joke!” and “This is why I don’t want women in the office!”
In January 2014, Alderson removed Okoye from her sales position and made her a coordinator, cutting her pay by more than 37 percent, the complaint states.
When Okoye attempted to address the sexual harassment issues, she discovered that deVere USA had no human resources department. According to the complaint, her only recourse was to contact deVere’s Malta office via email, which Okoye feared Alderson would see and take steps to retaliate against her.
In addition to the sexual harassment, Okoye says Alderson promoted a culture of illegal drug usage. Okoye claims she found bags of marijuana in the office, but when she brought it to the attention of both a co-worker and manager, she was laughed at repeatedly, the complaint states.
Eventually, her manager allowed her to move to California and work remotely. However, within a few months, Alderson instructed Okoye’s manager to terminate her employment, the complaint alleges, claiming there were no legitimate business reasons for her termination.
Okoye is seeking damages, as well as lost pay and attorney’s fees. The New York Daily News first reported the lawsuit late Monday night.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday, Alderson and deVeres categorically denied the suit’s “false and incredulous allegations,” characterizing Okoye as a disgruntled former employee.
“We are shocked and dismayed that a legitimate employment termination has sparked such a malicious response,” the company said. “Unfortunately, we are very limited about what we can say about this as it’s subject to legal proceedings, but we pledge to clear the names of those wrongly accused and look forward to doing so in court.”
Updated at 3:40 p.m. on May 19, 2015 to include comments from deVeres.